“You are welcome to Shiraz” said the taxi driver in the most hospitable manner when I got off from the bus at the terminal. Before coming to here, I heard many people praising the sincerity and friendliness of warm hearted people of Shiraz. The kind words of the taxi driver proved this at my very first step into the city. I was now in Shiraz, in the city of lovers, in the city of poets, gardens, wine and flowers.
Once famous for its vineyards, Shiraz is a very green city that is set in a fertile valley. Eram and Afifabad gardens are the outstanding examples of the marvellous gardens it has. All around the city there are many tall cypress and maple trees. What a beautiful image it was to see leaves everywhere that fell down from the trees in this time of the year.
In the city almost every boulevard is decorated with evergreen Naranj, sour orange trees (below) that produce white blossoms every April. They smell adorable and amaze everyone. Their delicious sour flavoured fruit is used for cooking and the flowers are dried to make tea. I love it!
Two young men below were my dear hosts in Shiraz. They are Afshin and Arman, two young brothers who are highly intellectual, talented and extremely kind and helpful people. We also see their lazy and always hungry cat, adorable Vicki below.
Afshin is a musician and a composer. I so much enjoyed to hear piano every day. What a gift it was to be welcomed here, to let myself into the beautiful melodies, colourful notes and frequencies in a poetic city like this. What a lucky person I was.
Now let’s have a look at some of the attractions of this beautiful city. Shiraz hosts one of the unique mosques of Iran; Nasir al-Mulk Mosque also known as Pink Mosque. Below you see the inner courtyard of the mosque.
This 19th century place of worship is a gorgeous rainbow of colours. We see spectacular examples of mosaics on the indoor and outdoor facades of the mosque. Crazy details of thousands of bright coloured painted tiles on the ceiling amaze everyone.
Windows have a unique character with geometric shapes on their design. Once the sunlight hits the stained glasses, the entire building is flooded by a vibrant rainbow of colours. Therefore in the day time it becomes like a photograhy studio that is invaded by many tourists.
Shiraz hosts one of the old schools of miniature painting which is a significant genre in Persian art that dates back to 13th century. The most important function of miniature was illustration, making the literature more enjoyable and easier to understand. Miniature obtained a deep and sincere accordance with poetry as well. There had been many important miniature schools in the history (Tabriz, Shiraz, Isfahan, Herat etc.) each with its own unique style. It is best to use a magnifying glass to get lost in the gorgeous details of war scenes, love scenes, portraits, flowers and birds. (below)
Calligraphy (below) is another fascinating forms of Iranian culture. To Iranians, it means the manifestation of human spirituality where pure writing is regarded as originated from a pure heart. Most of the handwritten books of Iran specially the Holy Quran and collections of poems of Ferdowsi, Hafez, Saadi and Khayyam have been recognized as precious artistic works because of their graceful and delicate calligraphy.
If we are talking about Iran we should definitely mention about poetry. My Iran journey brought the depth of poetry into my life. Now it became one of the great refinements in my realizations as it voices my experiences, senses, insights, intuitions in the most profound way.
Poetry as an art form is in high regard in Iran and so ingrained in Iranian society. It is praised for its complexity and elegance. The popularity of poetry -both classical and contemporary- endures to this day. During family gatherings poems are recited and discussed. The teachings in the poems form a moral compass for everyday life. They also enhance the explorations and the experiences of people on ultimate reality.
Mystics of Iran realized many centuries ago that they could “describe the indescribable” in poetry far easier than in prose. To escape the limitations of the vocabulary, they filled every word with mystical significance. They developed an elaborate symbolism of the lover (mankind-ashiq) and the beloved (God-mashuq) relationship.
Coming to my primary reason for visiting Shiraz was two famous poets of Iran, Hafiz and Saadi who are both from this beautiful city. Through the quality of their poems, I understand why Shiraz is called “The city of Love”.
Saadi (we see his tomb above) was a major Persian poet lived in 13th century. He is recognized for the quality of his writings and for the depth of his social and moral thoughts. What is so interesting to me about him is that he left home for foreign lands to search for truth and wandered for thirty years abroad through Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Arabian peninsula, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, India and Central Asia.
Saadi’s best known works are Bustan (The Orchard) and Gulistan (The Rose Garden). Bustan consists of stories on recommended virtues (like modesty, contentment) and reflections on the behavior of dervishes and their ecstatic practices. Gulistan contains stories and personal anecdotes of his travels. In Gulistan, he calls for breaking down all barriers between human beings in a delicate way:
Human beings are limbs of one body indeed;
For, they’re created of the same soul and seed.
He who has no sympathy for human suffering,
Is not worthy of being called a human being.
Coming to Hafiz, my friend, my companion, my lover. . . We met long ago and he became one of the great souls who told me how to love in the broadest way. And now it was time to come right beside him, to his grave (above). It is one of the purest lands I’ve ever come across on this planet. What a naive and innocent energy. Near his masoleum I felt like I was in a fairytale. Magical!
Hafiz is the great Persian poet lived in 14th century. His collected works are regarded as a pinnacle of Persian literature. He brought to perfection the literary genre of Lyric poetry or ghazals that is the ideal style for expressing the ecstasy of divine inspiration. One of the guiding principles of his life was Sufism’s orientation to the complete devotion to the pursuit of union with the ultimate reality. He frequently invites his admirers to engage in the art of loving and caring for others.
The works of Hafiz can be found in almost every Iranian home, people read and learn his poems by heart. The ‘Fal-e Hafiz’ is a very old tradition in which a reader asks Hafiz for advice when facing a difficulty or at an important juncture in their life. They treat his books as an oracle and open randomly one of the pages with a deep wish for guidance.
The term ‘eshq’ is used extensively in Sufi poetry and literature to describe the selfless and burning love for God. The great importance that the mystics place on love is because love is the only way of understanding the Truth and the Divine. Many spiritual tradition in the world believe that reason or mind is limited in its ability to comprehend the truth and is therefore an obstacle. In contrast, love (eshq) is a divine gift to human beings, deposited in the heart. Love is the key to familiarity with the Divine and is capable of guiding the person to enlightenment.
The masoleum complex consists of gardens with many orange trees and flower beds. The simplicity of the whole complex and the beauty of the tomb create a heaven-like environment. There are also some spaces for Hafiz studies classes, Society of friends of Hafiz, a library and a tea house around the masoleum. Music is always playing softly in the background. With the poems of Hafiz in the lyrics, Mohammad Reza Shajarian’s beautiful vocal colours the air and the heart.
For 2 days from early morning till night I was with him, at the feet of him, singing, whirling, dancing, reading his ghazals, circumambulating his grave, having walks in the gardens. The notion of time disappeared.
More I read him, more I bow down to his love, to his beauty. What a profound language! What a simple though musical language. Despite the limitation of the vocabulary, what a talent to combine the words in such an ingenious way and give voice to the Reality. His language is so powerful that even one line can be your ‘zikr’ in all your life. I noticed the evoking intention in me to learn Farsi in order to read him from the original texts.
He is teaching me how to love in an unconditional and the most profound way. Like an initiation, like a transmission he is putting lasting ingredients in my consciousness, I am cooking his words through contemplation. As I truely open myself, I lift the veil of mystery and my true nature is flowing into me. The obstacles, the resentments dissolve and I throw them into the ocean of love. This great statement of him; ‘forgiving the dream’ is becoming a guide for me to love truely and unconditionally.
“Your wounds of love can only heal
When you forgive the dream.”
Being here at night under the moon is yet another beautiful experience. The magnificent tilework on the ceiling of the tomb is like the whole universe. I can’t take my eyes from it.
There is no other way but to run to my truth like a moth moving towards the light. It is a journey right into the heart of reality. I am drinking from the wine of love, I am becoming love drunk. He is leading me to a great Self awareness. Knowing the reality by being it, an immeasurable joy is arising.
“You will find yourself
Knee deep in ecstacy
When all your talents of love
Have reached their heights.”
A sacred hand reaches out from Hafiz’s profound compassion and wisdom. A gentle embrace is there in his omnipresent spirit that says Love is the most profound teacher. It is the ultimate answer to all questions, doubts and impurities. We don’t create love but it is there, always and already. We just need to learn to open ourselves fully to it. I am saying to myself; ‘You have seen the path, do not fear anymore.’
I once asked a bird,
“How is it that you fly in this gravity of darkness?”
“Love lifts me.”
Words need to breath. We need to breath them. Like this, our understanding of the teachings change, deepen in time. The words we used to read or speak out many times before and our realizations, they all go deeper and deeper when we are in the path.
40 is taken as a holy number in Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and many other traditions. It symbolizes two distinct chapters in between the death of oneself and the spiritual rebirth. It also expresses the perfection. We also see the marks of this symbol in Hafiz’s life. At 60, he is said to have begun a 40-day-and-night solitary retreat by sitting in a circle that he had drawn for himself. On the 40th day, he once again met with his Sufi master Zayn al-Attar on what is known to be their 40th anniversary and was offered a cup of wine. It was there where he is said to have attained enlightenment.
I am now at the age of 40. And I am totally aware that this year I’ve entered through a threshold after being tested by life in a very harsh way. Now I feel like I am in the age of maturity with many pure insights. Oh life, all your toughness and compassion, how magical you are. I am deeply in gratitude. I am Love!
“The jewels you get when you meet the Beloved
Go on multiplying themselves,
They take root everywhere.” – Hafiz